Monkton aide wrapping up 39-year love affair with her job

MONKTON — Lillian “Lil” Cota thought she was headed for a normal day at Monkton Central School on Tuesday. But the 39-year veteran instructional aide was in for quite the surprise when she arrived in the school’s gymnasium to a luncheon in her honor.

Relatives and colleagues of Cota, who is retiring at the end of this year, came to honor Cota for her service — and present her with an enormous strawberry cake.

After the celebration, the still-teary-eyed Cota sat down with the Independent to talk about her long career.

“Thirty-nine years later, I’ve loved every single minute of it,” Cota said. “I’ve never dreaded coming back after a vacation, I’ve never dreaded having to get up in the morning to come. I just really, really love my job.”

Cota first came to the school as a volunteer, while one of her sons was in the first grade at MCS.

“I came in one day a week for an hour,” Cota said. “The principal came in one day and said ‘would you be interested in being an assistant?’”

Cota said she was hesitant at first, fearing she was not qualified to teach children, but eventually came around. Four decades later, she still feels she made the right decision.

“The kids are absolutely amazing, I’ve had such wonderful experiences with them,” Cota said.

A native of Randolph, Cota moved to Hinesburg in high school and then to Monkton during the late 1960s, when she married her husband, Greg.

Cota said she’ll miss the kids the most.

“I’m going to miss their growth, working with them, seeing their smiles when they see me,” Cota said. “I’m gonna miss the camaraderie I have with so many people here — I’ve made some absolutely wonderful friends that will hold for the rest of my life.”

She said there were too many humorous and memorable moments to recount from her time at the school, but did share a story from her early days, while her two sons were still students at the school. One day, one of her sons, a clever boy with a talent for storytelling, told the school’s principal that his thermos from home was filled with vodka and orange juice.

“He didn’t have it, but he was a great storyteller and at that point in his mother’s life, that was a drink she might have,” Cota said, still fighting back laughter after all the years. “He just heard those two words together.”

Cota said that one of her favorite parts of the day was lunch duty, which she did in each of her 39 years.

“Many people detest it, but I really enjoy it because that’s the time you can take a second and talk with a student or make a comment,” Cota said. “You just get the time to visit.”

Since she’s been at MCS so long, Cota has seen children of former students matriculate.

“Three years ago this little girl came and we just looked at her and thought, ‘oh my gosh, she must be so-and-so’s daughter,” Cota said, adding that the school just hired as an aide another former student of hers. “It’s so weird.”

For Cota, whose enthusiasm for her job and the people she works with is reflected in the excited cadence of her voice, there is a tinge of sadness in her departure.

“I’ve given all this love for so many years, what am I going to give love to now?” Cota asked.

But Cota won’t be stepping away from Monkton Central School completely. She’ll still be a presence in the school next year.

“I’m going to come back as a mentor, one day a week,” Cota said. “I’ll have a student that will be my student, that I’ll meet and play a game or have lunch with.”

Principal Susan Stewart, the last in a line of principals Cota served under, praised her for her rapport with students.

“The connection she has with the kids and also with the community is very strong,” Stewart said. “She knows them well, and it’s important to her to know the things that are of interest to them, and she’s very caring and respectful with them.”

Cota said she has noticed some differences between kids today and kids from when she started in the mid-1970s.

“Kids now come in with way more knowledge, some of it good and some of it bad,” Cota said. “Some have had lots of experiences in life, or no experiences at all.”

Cota said that the student body at MCS is also more diverse, as the town has become more affluent.

“They’ve either had lots of traveling, and parents that cared and read with them, or they have parents that are doing all they can just to put food on the table, even if they do that,” Cota said.

She’s disappointed to see bullying occur more frequently than it used to.

“I see bullying and that really bothers me,” Cota said. “That’s one of the things I was going to take a class on, to better understand.”

Admittedly old-fashioned, Cota said she is not a fan of the role fancy electronic devices play in our everyday lives.

“I really dislike all the technology,” Cota said, noting her teenage grandchildren’s obsession with their iPods and cellphones. “We don’t have conversations we used to have.”

In retirement, Cota said she hopes to spend more time with her husband.

“We can do some traveling, but not anything extensive,” Cota said. “We went to Florida in May and had a wonderful time.”

But Cota said that the couple harbors no ambitions to retire to a warmer climate. They’re Vermonters, through and through.

“We’re both very home people,” Cota said. “I can’t see us being any place but right here in Monkton.”

Zach Despart is at [email protected].

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